The informant is 59 years old and was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She currently resides in Dallas, Texas. Although she does not identify herself as a Buddhist, she works at a museum and learns a lot about the religious beliefs and background of Buddha. She described a statue of Buddha that she has children on field trips come to see at the museum. While they visit, she asks them questions about what and who they think the statue might represent. She shares Buddha’s story and how Siddhartha came to be known as ‘The Enlightened One.‘
Nancy: “Well, let me start all the way back. Let’s see…long, long ago, in what is now Northern India, there was a prince who had a son, and the son’s name was Siddhartha Gautama. There was a prophecy that was made at the time that this little boy was born, that one day he would either be a great warrior or he would be uh a religious leader. So the prince, the father, uh felt that both of those possibilities were okay with him uh but in order to protect his son, he kept him within the like castle boundaries. So the son never went out uh outside beyond uh the walls. He never got to see what life was like, and uh one of the reasons too was that the father did not want him seeing some of the uh sufferings and bad things about life. Well, Siddhartha got to be kind of anxious about going out and seeing these things for himself, so he did. He was able to go out of the castle. He was on a horse who’s name I can’t remember right now. Uh and he was so amazed to see this suffering in the people, things like sickness and death and um disease. It just really started him so much that he wanted it find it more about why it was that the world had these uh attributes. So, he decided never to return to the castle but to move out into the world and try to find the answers to why it is that this suffering takes place. So, he continued on this um exploration and he finally became Buddha, the Enlightened One. So Siddhartha became the Enlightened One, and he based his studies, his understanding on some principles such as uh, “all suffering is based in desire,” and uh there are three other noble truths, and I can’t remember what they are right now, but they are called ‘The Noble Truths’…and that explained about people and their suffering, but the idea was you had to uh meditate on this to be able to understand it, and the goal was uh to get this understanding, and once you reached that, you reached nirvana. You could die in peace. You were not continually without nirvana. You were reborn into this world and into this suffering, but finally once you understood and could practice the noble truths then you, you could reach nirvana.”
Me: “So what do you have the kids do at the museum?”
Nancy: “Oh. Well, the statue is there as I said, and I have them explain to me what they see. Describe the person, and they might say things like uh, “well his eyes are closed.” No, in fact they’re uh partially closed because he is contemplating. He is meditating. He has uh, well they call it “a hole in his head.” He has uh a third eye that is his eye for wisdom. He has long earlobes that have been pulled down from the weight of having very heavy jewelry, earrings and that speaks to his past. Another things that I add is uh this is just the head of the Buddha. It is from the neck and it’s obvious that it’s uh been broken off, and I talk them about that. Why do you think that happened? And they do talk about it in terms of, well it might have been, it could have been, we don’t know, an earthquake or water erosion, and finally, usually someone comes up with, “Oh, it might’ve occurred uh in warring circumstances where uh groups of people were fighting each other and attacked and broke apart these statues,” and that’s where I leave it, is that they understand not only the physical, natural things that could happen, but also humanity uh mankind can have impatience and uh strike out against other people’s symbols of comfort and so on.”
This piece of folklore was quite informative about the beginnings of Buddhism. I did not know the story of Siddartha Guatama before hearing this, and it was interesting to hear the origin of such a renown religion. It never occurred to me that nirvana had a direct path through what is known as the Noble Truths. The story did not go into detail about what the truths were, so I’d like to know more about them and how they could possibly be similar to the moral codes of other religions. It’s a good thing that the artifacts of this religion are still kept in museums, for it keeps the origin story alive.